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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Wisdom, no extra charge

Most of my work has to do with reading and writing. Read, read, read; write, write, write; all day long. About 20 percent of the time, I stand up in front of a group and talk, but the job is mostly about the written word. Then there's my internet hobby -- more of the same. When I take a break from all that, I don't find myself reading a book for pleasure as much as I probably should.

Lately when I do get around to recreational reading, I've been consuming books written by people I know. My current read was penned by my friend and multi-talented colleague, Ron Lansing. It's called "Nimrod," and it's written around the capture and trial of Oregon's first accused murderer, a crusty, old, early Willamette Valley settler by the name of Nimrod O'Kelly.

Now, right off the bat, the title of the book is going to cause a few titters. I had a California-born-and-raised girlfriend for a short while some years ago. She spoke fluent Valley Girl, and she was always calling some person she thought was stupid a "nimrod." I think the dictionary definition is "hunter," but not in her dictionary. (As I recall, she might also brand a slow person as a "nimbus.")

Anyway, once you get past the title (if you need to), Lansing's history of the O'Kelly affair is quite interesting. Picture a western Oregon that was just being settled, in 1852, only about a decade after the very first wagon made it over the Rockies and out to Oregon territory. Everything was being done by the seat of the pants, including law and criminal justice. And old Nimrod was quite the character, having made it over the divide, hopping from wagon train to wagon train, alone at the age of 65. Years later, he got into a beef with a neighbor, and, well, there were no Office of Neighborhood Involvement mediators back then to help work things out. Next thing you know he was being tried for allegedly killing the guy.

I'm not as up on my Oregon history as I should be. I read through Kimbark McColl's books on Portland when they came out decades ago, but a lot of it went in one eye and out the other. Lansing's book will surely get me back up to speed on the early days of the white man in our neck of the woods, and give me some interesting angles on law and civilization to think about.

But now that that's out of the way, let me tell you why this is such a great read: It's pure Ron. Every couple of pages or so, he drops in a sage observation that connects his story to a much larger truth. "It is one thing to pester government about its empty head," he writes, "but quite another to carp on its full heart." Introducing O'Kelly, he says, "There was more past than future in him, more memories than dreams." You hit one of these, and you have to smile. Ron has thought a lot of things all the way through. It's poetry amidst the history. Inspiring stuff.

At the rate of a few pages a night, it takes me forever to get through a book any more. With this one, that's a good thing. I'll be savoring every page.

Comments (8)

Having worked for his wife, Jewel Lansing, for four years when she was City Auditor, I got to bump into Ron every once in a while. He was a very interesting guy, with a great wit and sense of perspective. Thanks for the heads up on the book...sounds like a great read.

Yay Ron Lansing! You ain't heard nothin 'til you've heard Lansing pull off a faultless impromtu recitation of Gunga Din in the middle of a Torts class. He draws good pictures too.

As I say, he's multi-talented.

Chiming in! Lansing is right up there with you and Kanter, Jack - three of the best law profs there are. I've got to get my hands on this new book.

When does nice week end? I think I'm getting a cavity!

It took me many a night to read, as I didn't want to miss any of the penetrating accounts on this old guy, Nimrod. Significant history. Bravo, Bro! As always, I'm proud as can be!

Alas, I didn't have the pleasure of taking one of Prof. Lansing's classes. But I thought your discussion of the word "nimrod" was pretty funny, considering that I've dug it out of my vocabulary archive and have been using it quite a bit lately...even on my blog.

Judge Nimrod wrote the district court opinion in my moot court problem. So I managed to learn that the term nimrod comes from babylon, presumably the same derivation as the term babbling, and I understand nimrod to mean one who makes unintelligible pronouncements.

I wasn't surprised at the extensive scholarship so apparent in "Nimrod." Ron excels at research and scholarship, but I was surprised that, as Jack Bogdanski says...Ron turns out to be a poet as well. I, too, noticed and looked forward to the same, deceptively simple pearls of wisdom Jack describes, e.g. "There was more past than future in him, more memories than dreams." And I was delighted that Ron could turn a research paper/biograpy into a good mystery read by continually dangling tidbits like this one in front of me: "Although Nimrod did not seem to realize it, his house was still not in order, and there was little time to get it there. The hangman on the horizon was approaching with cart and coffin." (Since I didn't have any pre-knowledge of what finally happened to Nimrod, Ron kept me guessing until (almost) the end.) All in all, a great combo of literary and historical writing.

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